KIMBALL, Neb. – This week, I voted in the Nebraska Primary Election. Why did I vote?
Hmm. It’s kind of fun to list the reasons which weren’t a factor in my decision to vote. I didn’t vote to get an “I Voted!” sticker. I didn’t vote because of guilt or peer pressure. I didn’t vote to support an agenda or a party. I didn’t vote to “keep those people from taking over” or to “keep that person out of office.” I didn’t vote against my enemies or for my friends. I didn’t vote for politicians or for people I want to be in charge of the state or the nation.
I voted to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That document is the codification of the moral and ethical principles upon which our nation was founded. It is the real contract with America, the contract each and every one of us share. The Constitution guarantees we live in a nation where all people are equal and endowed with unalienable rights – rights which come to us not from human beings or government institutions, but from a much, much loftier plane.
Speaking of the Constitution, next Friday, May 25, is the beginning of the Memorial Day Weekend. Memorial Day itself falls on Monday, May 28. Memorial Day is a national holiday, a day set aside to remember and honor all of the men and women who have fallen while serving in our nation’s armed forces.
Since 1789, each service member has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, which enumerates and codifies the principles and ideas upon which our nation is formed. The first oath under the Constitution was approved by Act of Congress on Sept. 29, 1789. This oath applied to all commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers and privates in the service of the United States.
During the Revolution and up until the ratification of the Constitution, soldiers, sailors and marines swore an oath, defined in Section 3, Article 1, of the Articles of War, approved by Congress on 20 Sept. 1776:
“I swear (or affirm as the case may be) to be trued to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the Generals and officers set over me by them.”
In swearing to be “trued to the United States of America” these men were swearing allegiance to the principles enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. The exact wording of the oath of service has changed a number of times over the years, but the oath itself has retained an absolute and rock-solid promise to serve the Constitution.
Here is today’s oath:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Last week I mentioned a local elected official who is grateful to live in a country where the government arranges things so that people will die for her. “I know it’s my civil right,” she said, “and I expect them to die for me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of them!”
Make of that what you will.
Mediterranean Sea, 1983.
The crew and I were flying a routine mission that day, and our helicopter was on the outbound leg of a standard plane guard orbit. The carrier was launching jets and preparing to recover aircraft. I didn’t see the crash. We heard the Air Boss make the radio call though: “Plane in the water, off the bow!”
Our aircraft made a quick, steeply banked turn and headed for the scene.
In the back I was shucking out of my flight gear and shucking into water rescue gear: fins, mask and snorkel and SAR vest. It was January in the Mediterranean, so I was already wearing a wetsuit.
Muscle memory from endless training was driving my body, freeing my mind to prepare, review, anticipate. I sat in the door as we came to a hover while, 20-feet below, an aviator appeared to struggle with a sodden and sinking parachute.
“Go, Go, GO,” shouted the crew chief, each “go” accompanied by a slap on the back. I levered myself out and dropped feet-first into the sea behind the survivor, sweeping shroud lines aside as I plunged beneath the surface, then spinning the man to face me as I bobbed back up.
Unfortunately, the man was beyond help.
I signaled the situation to the crew chief and the helicopter moved off, horse collar descending as the rescue hoist paid out cable. There were three other aviators in the water.
I opened the koch fittings on the victim’s torso harness and let the chute sink away into the depths. I pulled the beads on his LPA and he bobbed higher in the water as the flotation lobes filled with gas.
Then I waited, one hand clasped to the victim’s harness, and watched the rescue unfold. The crew plucked one survivor from the sea and sped off toward the boat. Another helicopter hovered over another sinking parachute. The ship’s motor whaleboat chugged past, heading for the fourth parachute.
Eventually the whaleboat returned and collected my departed shipmate and I. Their rescue had been a recovery as well. We chugged back to the ship with the mortal remains of two shipmates aboard. The other helicopter delivered a third departed shipmate to the flight deck.
Three American Sailors fell in service to the Constitution that day. Before the deployment ended, the cost in sailor’s lives rose to six. In addition, a civilian Tech Rep died of a heart attack during the deployment.
Lewis Dixon, Peter J. Moller, Edward T. Doyle, Richard N. Lanzendorf, Donald E. Ivory, James D. Kerr III, and Mr. William M. Graham.
Why vote? It’s a good question, and in my opinion, one worth thinking deeply about.